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CU Nursing Student Josh Simpson

Students

The “Right Stuff”

Wife’s breast cancer diagnosis leads to nursing career

Author Dana Brandorff | Publish Date July 16, 2020

In 2015, Josh Simpson’s world stopped. Soon after the birth of his youngest daughter, his 33-year-old wife received an earth-shattering diagnosis -- breast cancer. Originally misdiagnosed as clogged milk ducts, the diagnosis came after she switched doctors, and a subsequent biopsy. “I can’t tell you how many times people have said that you don’t typically get breast cancer while breastfeeding. One thing I discovered is that there is no normal with breast cancer,” said Simpson.

After undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, and reconstruction, the couple thought she had beaten it. Within months, cancer spread to her brain and spine. The prognosis was grim. She fought hard but realized she wasn’t going to get better. “During that time, I learned that people deal with these situations very differently, and you need to let them handle it in their way,” said Simpson. His wife’s family did not believe what was happening. They wanted her to keep fighting and didn’t want to hear that she was dying. “I found my voice and began to advocate for her and her wishes,” said Simpson.

Consequently, “We tried to plan for the kids and focus on all the right stuff,” said Simpson.

The “right stuff” included making videos for their three young children so they could have them when they got older. The “right stuff” included talking about death, making sure they completed all paperwork, and were prepared. The “right stuff” also included Simpson taking Family and Medical Leave from his computer job and becoming her full-time caregiver.

“We had a lot of time together as a family,” he said. Juggling her care as well as that of their children was challenging. “But one that I wouldn’t change,” said Simpson. “Being able to be there and openly talk about hospice and death was so important. I learned there were many things you can do to ease suffering – monetarily and emotionally. Not talking about death is not one of those things.”

Before her diagnosis, his wife did something that would have a tangible impact on her family after her death. She had the forethought to put insurance in place and raise the limit. “We didn’t talk about it at that time,” said Simpson. It was fortuitous, as it allowed him to semi-retire, throw himself into school, and pursue a different career.

“As far as I could remember, I wanted to be in health care, but had followed several different paths including firefighting, law enforcement, and real estate software.” For Simpson, nothing felt like he wanted it to be until nursing – specifically hospice care. “That’s my path. If it changes, I’m okay with that. But I’m not willing to be sidetracked now,” said Simpson.

His personal experience solidified a long-term desire, which led him to CU Nursing’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Today, Simpson is in his first year at CU Anschutz after completing his prerequisites at the Community College of Denver. Excited by the prospect of being a nurse, Simpson said, “I’m a little older. I’ve seen a lot of things. I want to get rid of the taboo of talking about death.”